Our Old Dutch Church
Turbulence of a New Century in a New Nation
Rev. Peter I. Van Pelt dynamic pastor 1802 to 1835
with oratorical skills and social and political connections.
Oil Painting of Dr. Peter I. Van Pelt
by renowned portraitist Ezra Ames
Descended from French Huguenots on this mother's side and from one of first Dutch families that settled in New Utrecht on his father's, Van Pelt was born at Bushwick (Long Island) on 27 May 1778. He attended Erasmus HIgh and Columbia College where he received his AB in 1799.
Soon after the Revolutionary War, George Washington was on Long Island and the young Van Pelt walked with him on the beach, past his grandfather's shad fisheries. Washington had finally found economic success with his herring fishery. Van Pelt was deeply impressed by the "majesty of Washington's appearance" and the "dignity and amiableness of his conversation." When Washington died in December of 1799 Congress resolved that funeral orations would be delivered in every state on Washington's birthday the following February. Van Pelt spoke for the State of New York.
In 1802 he came to Port Richmond; he was ordained that May.
His orations were so well attended they had to be presented outside.
They raised funds for the "abolition of the debt under which we had many years groaned" incurred in building a brick church in 1787 on land deeded in 1766 by Gozen Ryers. He then turned to the "tottering, decaying condition" of the church steeple, raising the money in a month.
He received his Doctorate in Divinity from Rutgers in 1834. He served as a chaplain in the war of 1812 (from 1812-1814).
Van Pelt established the first parochial and Sabbath School
in New York State in 1811.
Our Church built a house 40 by 18 feet and two stories high, fronting
on the Kills in the church yard. The school opened on the first Monday in June, 1811, commencing with twenty-one scholars.
Rev. Van Pelt said it was not intended to be an exclusively religious institution nor to be devoted exclusively the the instruction of children: adults who had had no previous education were admitted, and both classes were instructed in the ordinary branches of a common English education; religious instruction however was not neglected.
The school thrived for a number of years but gradually lost its popularity. After Van Pelt's resignation it was sold to great advantage.
The first attempt to tell local history, “Brief History of the Settlement of Staten Island”
by Rev. Van Pelt, published in 1818, seems to be lost.
Evidence that Van Pelt was held in high esteem, this 1823 ledger from our archives
is the list of those who pledged regular semi-annual payments
"for the purpose of support" of his ministry.
It includes Cornelius Vanderbilt in the lower right hand corner.
War, Triumph, Disgrace and Scandal in the Life of the Church 1812 to 1835
By 1812 the hymnody had expanded to include 324 versions of Psalms and 788 hymns. The new hymns and strange new meters were not always received without criticism Two Classes of the New York area complained of 90 preaching hymns, praise to dead saints, heretical expression, bad taste, nonsense , a lack of devotion in some hymns, and too many peculiar meters.
The minutes of the Consistory reveal that from time to time it was necessary to discipline some of its members for immoral and/or disorderly conduct. May 28, 1812 read, "at this meeting at which all the members were present (______________) a communicant member being again charged with opposition to the church, unsoundness in the fair and disorderly schismatic conduct; and full proof thereof being made the Consistory is unanimously resolved to and did suspend him from the holy communion of the church." In the decades to come, church members were taken to task for being seen in the community under the influence of liquor, for betting, for swearing, for slander, and for holding beliefs not in keeping with the doctrine of the Reformed Church. The consistory was strict and apparently even-handed in its discipline. Even prominent leaders of the community were called to task.